Fenland tenants were misled over council homes sell-off claims campaigner

PUBLISHED: 12:24 27 September 2010

Robert Pinnock

Robert Pinnock

Archant

AFTER our story last week that Roddons Housing Association was closing two of Fenland's sheltered housing schemes Robert Pinnock, who protested against the sell-off of homes by Fenland District Council to Roddons, says he believes tenants were misled.

This is Mr Pinnock's response to news of the closure of the two schemes.

Napier Court, Wisbech

IT is disappointing to read that two sheltered home schemes, The Dale in Elm and Napier Court/Elizabeth Terrace in Wisbech, are to close. That these two schemes were not up to standard is not the issue but how any problems are resolved most certainly are.

We are told that the schemes are to be closed and the sites redeveloped. No confirmation is made that the development will be two new replacement sheltered schemes and it may well be inferred that general needs, affordable housing, will instead be erected.

This is fine provided that the local infrastructure, particularly schools and roads, are also improved to cater for the influx of an undetermined number of families. Normally, scant attention is ever paid to this and all local residents, police and others are left to either sort out the resultant mess or “live with it”. I also trust that any such development will be subject to the Section 106 rules.

What is not fine is that in a time of people living longer and therefore more likely to require the services provided by sheltered homes we are losing two schemes. How many more will follow?

Robert Pinnock

Former councillor Robert Pinnock protested against the sell-off of council homes by Fenland District Council to Circle Anglia in 2006.

He urged tenants in Fenland to be the first to give Circle Anglia a bloody nose and vote ‘no’ in the ballot - the deal went through by 250 votes.

After last week’s story in this newspaper that Roddons Housing Association, part of Circle Anglia, was closing two of Fenland’s sheltered housing schemes, Mr Pinnock says he believes tenants were misled.

In 2004 he campaigned for a referendum on whether Fenland should have an elected mayor. He resigned as an Elm parish councillor in 2009 claiming he could no longer work with Fenland District Council.

Worse still, I allege, that tenants were misled by Fenland District Council and/or Roddons in the run up to the sell-off ballot in December 2006.

If any reasonable person were to buy property, they would carry out searches and have the property inspected by surveyors/architects and other professionals to ensure that the property was sound. I am sure that Roddons, or its parent company Circle Anglia, did the same and must have concluded that The Dale and Napier Court, for whatever reason, would last for a few years only.

Yet no mention of this seems to have been made directly in any of the sales blurb that inundated tenants. In fact, the very opposite was said loud and clear:

“Roddons Housing Association would not only maintain existing services but also improve them.”

“Roddons Housing Association would provide the sheltered housing service currently provided by the council.”

“Modernisation of sheltered schemes in need of improvement.”

Also, at the time of the ballot, three sheltered housing schemes in Fenland did not have their own wardens and so tenants were told: “Roddons Housing Association would employ an additional three scheme managers to ensure each group scheme has a dedicated scheme manager,” thereby enforcing the belief that all sheltered schemes would stay. Why were tenants not told that their homes were in jeopardy from Roddons?

Had tenants been so advised perhaps the outcome of the ballot may have been different since it was the sheltered housing vote that carried the “yes” result - and many of those residents had relatives living in other council homes.

Would tenants have been so sure of a future with Roddons had they really known the truth? After all, Roddons (and FDC as they promoted the sell-off) won by a mere 250 votes. This despite the huge resources thrown into their campaign.

So it would appear that at a time of increasing need for sheltered accommodation, facilities are being reduced. What other surprises does Roddons have in store for us as we approach the fourth anniversary of their win?

Will it meet the promised target of 500 new homes to be built within five years of transfer – indeed how many have been completed to date?

Has it spent the promised £10,000 for each sheltered housing scheme for communal improvements – particularly The Dale and Napier Court? Has it set up a £1million ‘community fund’ to improve the quality of life for tenants and residents of Fenland and if so how has this been apportioned and how much has been spent?

Tenants will know that they were promised in the first five years from transfer:

• 1500 new kitchens

• 200 new bathrooms

• 700 boiler replacements

• More electrical sockets when homes are rewired

Plus a number of other improvements.

Will all of these be completed on time?

We must remember that FDC sold off our housing stock of 3,754 homes in the December 2006 ballot for about £41.6million, which is about £11,000 each property although FDC received a net figure of about £19million (approximately £5,000 each) after costs and disbursements.

This was a major exercise which over the 30-year financing deal will benefit the Circle Anglia Group.

Is it not a pity that Central Government (of all hues) did not have the foresight to allow local councils to borrow (at lower rates) to achieve that which Circle Anglia will? In 30 years time the FDC balance sheet could have looked quite healthy.

The elderly and vulnerable will in future years suffer from Roddons’ decision and we can only speculate on the future of the other schemes.

I believe that those involved in the sell-off who knew that the future of these two sheltered schemes was in doubt should hang their heads in shame as surely this is, at the very best, a blatant case of lying by omission.

This whole sorry matter can be best summed up by the tenant who asked: “What would transfer mean for older and disabled tenants?”

The reply was: “Tenants living in sheltered schemes would still live in the same place with the same scheme manager and the same facilities.”

Unfortunately, the tenant was not told for how long!

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